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Another Clinton Human Sacrifice?

By Christopher Hitchens
Tuesday, February 9, 1999; Page A17

When called on Friday afternoon by a House Judiciary Committee counsel and asked a question to which it was evident she knew the answer, I had a number of reasons to decide not to obfuscate. (I had been preparing a column about Sidney Blumenthal's spinning of the press, by way of his quite legal but highly colored account of his grand jury proceedings, and could think of a number of people who might have decided on a tip-off.)

The first reason is that the president faces a charge of obstructing justice and that I have good reason, from direct personal experience, to believe that he evolved an unusually revolting strategy for dealing with a potentially inconvenient witness.

The second is that, as anyone who has been living in Washington lately has probably noticed, it can be better to start with the truth and then look for clarification than to start with a falsehood and then search for wiggle room. Apart from anything else, I had already told a recognizable version of the story in The Independent of London last Sept. 13, before this matter had acquired its current toxicity.

So, when asked if I had ever heard my old friend Sidney Blumenthal give currency to the idea that Monica Lewinsky was a stalker, I said, yes, I had.

What a fuss! What a load of phony differences without distinctions! Blumenthal has already told the grand jury that Clinton concocted this foul story, with its equally foul implications. He has now admitted to telling some such version to "friends" of his as well as journalists (and I still consider myself to be both). That story got into the press, a lot. The message was therefore delivered to Ms Lewinsky. QED.

A senator pondering whether obstruction occurred will now have to live with this fact -- that a crude threat to her of moral and psychic destruction was added to the probable inducements and to the procurement of a perjured Lewinsky affidavit. Imagine what Monica Lewinsky's life would now be like, absent that dress we all pretended to find so "distasteful."

There is of course a much less important second implication, which is that Blumenthal is prepared, or more likely is being readied, to be used as yet another human sacrifice by his employer. I don't think a true friend should or could urge this course of action upon him. If I had written my intended column a week earlier, which I now devoutly wish I had, I could have been a truer friend by warning him off any unguarded statement.

But I made it plain to the House counsel and lawyers that I regarded myself as witnessing only for their Senate trial, and only against the president. Before signing, I said in unmistakable terms that I would not testify about the knowledge of many other journalists in this matter, and that I would not testify in any separate or subsequent case against Blumenthal. (To me, it seems plain that he circulated a story in his own name, believing it to be true, and was watched fondly by his Oval Office friend as he took the same tale to the grand jury.)

I was properly advised that my testimony could be compelled, and replied that I would still decline. My wife, who was and is a witness, joins me in this.

I suppose it's possible that the matter can be resolved, in a truly "bipartisan" manner, in this way. The Senate lets Bill Clinton walk. Judge Starr decides to proceed against Sidney, who by his excess of loyalty has become one of Clinton's victims. And I withdraw my affidavit (as I then would) and am cited for contempt.

The U.S. Senate then finds out, having "put everything behind us and moved on," that everything we could even suspect in the Kathleen Willey case turns out to be true. A perfect victory for justice.

So, for the moment, I am putting myself under the protection of America's love of the ironic. And, when this is over (and if it matters) I look forward to seeing Sidney again, and to having no differences with him except about politics.

The writer is a columnist for the Nation and Vanity Fair.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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